It’s hard to remember the last time there wasn’t some sort of development on the Labour Party’s anti-semitism scandal. Depressingly, the stream of incidents, new and historic, that have come to light has become seemingly endless. However, readers will likely have noticed an uptick in the pressure being applied in recent days – Lord Sacks speaking out, Gordon Brown urging Labour to act, similar interventions by Ed Balls and David Blunkett, and, of course, Frank Field’s decision to resign the Whip have all propelled the issue into the headlines day after day.
This isn’t an accident. There are several reasons why this is a crunch week for the scandal and the Opposition:
1) The NEC election today
Today we learned that all nine of the ‘JC9’ slate of Corbynite candidates have been elected to Labour’s NEC. The all there is significant – shamefully, the victorious candidates include Peter Willsman, who was recorded at an NEC meeting commenting on Jewish people’s concerns by saying “I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all.” Momentum officially dropped its support for his candidacy after that revelation, but it emerged at the weekend that Momentum’s founder and chief, Jon Lansman, still voted for him anyway – some 70,000 other Labour Party members also did so. As a result, Willsman will continue to sit on the Labour NEC.
2) The NEC’s vote on the IHRA definition of anti-semitism tomorrow
Much of the internal dispute in Labour has revolved around whether to adopt the full text of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, and the accompanying examples which demonstrate its application in practice. After months of often bitter disagreement about this – and some concerns that senior Labour figures would be in breach if the full document were adopted – the NEC will decide once and for all tomorrow. For some of those Labourites who’ve clung on in the hope of moderating Corbynism’s excesses, that meeting is seen as an essential stay-or-go moment.
3) The PLP’s vote on the same definition on Wednesday
A logical result of the NEC being dominated by Corbynite loyalists while the Parliamentary Labour Party is, well, not, is that the PLP increasingly seeks to govern itself. On Wednesday – the day after the NEC meeting – Labour MPs will gather to vote on incorporating the full, undiluted IHRA definition into the standing orders of the PLP. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, opposes that proposal in the meeting – there is some expectation that the vote will be unanimous, both as a message to the leadership and an attempt to reassure voters that at least some of the Labour Party is willing to simply oppose anti-semitism without caveats and havering.
4) The looming threat of deselections
For a long time the official Labour line was that there were no deselections in the offing – it was a fantasy, a myth created to stir up trouble, an unfair caricature of the Party’s new hard left masters. But then Frank Field resigned the Whip, and suddenly the explanation was that “he jumped before he was pushed”. There’s a rather obvious inconsistency in the argument that his concerns about growing intolerance of dissent within Labour ought to be ignored because he was a right-wing stooge who was about to be purged anyway, but nonetheless that was the spin from some quarters. Various parts of Corbyn’s base have been itching to start booting out those deemed insufficiently pure, and several of those around him are accomplished factionalists, having spent decades in a far left twilight zone riven by splitters, purgers and purists. Too many Labour MPs seem to have hoped they could survive by simply keeping their heads down and nodding in obeisance even as the Party descended to new lows. Some were able to seek the safety of various mayoralties, or running the V&A, but now those left behind are perhaps starting to realise that appeasement is at best only a stay of execution. Field’s resignation was likely accelerated by attempts to get rid of him – if others believe they will be for the chop even if they stay silent, then their best chance of survival, or at least honour, is to speak out and fight.
None of this means, of course, that this week will actually see an end to the scandal, or even a real change of tack from Corbyn. The sight of the JC9 riding to victory in the NEC election is a reminder that, when asked to choose between Corbyn and decency, there are enough of his supporters willing to choose the man regardless of the cost, and so Labour seems set to continue on this grim trajectory.
If there are any changes from the coming few days it will likely be that a chunk of the remaining internal opposition to the leadership will realise their war is lost, and leave the Labour Party altogether.